Shmitah in KKL-JNF Forests


KKL-JNF keeps the commandment of the sabbatical year in all the lands it administers, in accordance with the instructions of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate.
KKL-JNF keeps the commandment of the sabbatical year in all the lands it administers, in accordance with the instructions of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate. The representative of the Chief Rabbinate for KKL-JNF is Rabbi Eli Shalev, who graduated from the agricultural school in Nahalal and served in the Israeli Navy as a deputy commander of a Dabur patrol boat.
 


Tree ring in Ilanot Forest. Photo: Tania Susskind

Rabbi Eli Shalev worked as a seaman, a lifeguard and in other professions until age thirty, when he adopted a traditional Jewish lifestyle. At the Rabbinate, the majority of his work is in the area of laws pertaining to the land of Israel, one of which is the sabbatical year.

Rabbi Shalev spoke to us about KKL-JNF during a sabbatical year and said we must first understand two concepts related to the religious laws concerning the sabbatical year—Tree Preservation and Tree Improvement.
 
Tree Preservation is about maintaining the survival of the tree. This includes tasks that are done during a sabbatical year and on intermediate festival days for the sake of maintaining plants and trees so that they will not perish. These tasks are generally permitted, because without them the trees would be severely harmed, and their survival would be endangered. Therefore, during a sabbatical year, KKL-JNF is allowed to prune trees that have suffered severe breakage due to heavy snowfall or damaged by other causes. Tree pests may be controlled, since this kind of treatment is necessary for the survival of the tree. During a sabbatical year it is also permitted to gather seeds for sprouting the following year.
 


Planting trees for security along Gaza border communities. Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive

Tree Improvement
is about fortifying the tree, that is, improving the tree. This includes tasks that are done during a sabbatical year and on intermediate festival days for the sake of upgrading and improving plants and trees. These tasks are generally prohibited. For example, during a sabbatical year one is not allowed to prepare the soil for planting in the following year or to design trees for decorative purposes. Obviously, one is not allowed to plant trees during the sabbatical year, although there may be exceptions. KKL-JNF undertakes security tree planting for concealment of residential communities near the Gaza border, and a dispensation allowing tree planting for this purpose during the sabbatical year has been provided.
 
Nurseries and Orchards


A field, with Mt. Tavor in the background. Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive

Nursery work may continue, as usual, on condition that religious requirements are upheld. Sowing is done in contained spaces, and, after sprouting, the sprouts are transported in special wagons, which are sealed on the bottom and on top (but open on the sides), and their substrate is at least ten handbreadths (90cm) off the ground. The sprouts are moved to a greenhouse where the substrate is disconnected and has no contact with the ground, and, in this format, it is also permitted to supply fertilizer and water in amounts that suffice for the survival of the sprouts.
 
KKL-JNF maintains 80,000 dunams of fruit tree orchards in its forests including olive groves, pomegranate groves, vineyards and fig trees, as well as 20,000 dunams of carobs. What happens to their fruit during a sabbatical year? For this there are also two concepts that must be understood, Post Flowering and Post Picking.
 


Seeds harvested from trees. Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive

Post Flowering
is the phase when the flower falls off the tree and the fruit begins to form. The time of this phase is a determining factor in the laws of the sabbatical year. A fruit that began to form prior to the Jewish New Year of 5775 may be picked as a post flowering fruit and not be considered a fruit of the sabbatical year. In other words, the olives in the KKL-JNF groves may be picked next year, as usual. The following yield, however, that of the year 5776, will be considered to have the sanctity of the seventh year.
 
Post Picking refers to produce, mainly vegetables and field crops, whose determining date is when they are reaped, and if they have been picked during a sabbatical year, they are considered to have the sanctity of the seventh year. 


Picking olives in Kabri. Photo: Batya

The question is then asked, what is to be done with the olives harvested in KKL-JNF olive groves from the sabbatical year? Since they are considered to have the sanctity of the sabbatical year, and anyone, according to rabbinical law, may pick as much of them as he himself needs, they cannot be published for bids and sold. In order for this to be done in the spirit of Jewish law, and in order to prevent the general public from descending on the orchards and groves, there is an institution called the Rabbinical Court Reserve, which functions as follows.
 
For the most part, the emissary from the Rabbinical Court is the owner of the orchards, and the owner of the orchards picks the fruit under supervision, for which he receives compensation for harvest and transport expenses. The remainder of the sum, after expenses, is allocated to charities.
 
In order to assess the quantity of produce and supervise the groves, Rabbi Eli Shalev is assisted by Suhail Zidan, KKL-JNF Director of Orchards, Woodlands and Pasture. Rabbi Shalev visits all the KKL-JNF groves and checks the operations in the nurseries, where he supervises the sapling production and the places where they are planted. By the way, even though there is disagreement in Jewish law as to the defined borders of the land of Israel with regard to the laws of the sabbatical year, KKL-JNF has chosen the stringent option and applies the laws of the sabbatical year from Mount Hermon to Eilat.